On March 10th, we found ourselves once again in the luxurious Palace Bar for an exquisite Irish Whiskey tasting to celebrate the upcoming Paddy’s Day celebration.
After a few adjustments to the Palace whiskey bar and due to more tasters than seats, we could start eyeing up the night’s whiskey selection.
As expected of an Irish Whiskey celebration, the selection had been meticulously chosen. Some of the big Irish whiskey names were present, but all whiskeys were particularly noteworthy, with the inclusion of rare and brand new Irish Whiskey releases:
- Green Spot Château Léoville-Barton
- Green Spot 10 Year Old Pure Pot Still
- Irish Whiskey Society Marrowbone Lane Pot Still - Exclusive Bottling
- Midleton Dair Ghaelach Tree 2
- Powers 16 Year Old – Celtic Whiskey Shop Exclusive Bottling
- Bushmills SteamShip Sherry Cask Reserve
- Celtic Cask 14: Celtic Cask Ceathair Deag (14)
- Celtic Cask 15: Celtic Cask Cuig Deag (15)
Stephen Magennis, from Celtic Whiskey Shop, was our presenter for the night with special guest Peter White from the Irish Whiskey Society and Mark McLaughlin from Bushmills.
After a brief introduction to the current Irish whiskey market and its state of revolution, it was time to whiff our first whiskey.
Number 1 Green Spot Château Léoville-Barton
Green Spot Château Léoville-Barton was born from the association of two Irish families: the Mitchell and Son wine merchants’ and the Léoville-Barton family.
Mitchells and Sons were among the first families of wine merchants that operated without a distributor in Dublin in the late 1800s. They used to have a wine and whiskey emporium in Kildare Street, directly across the road from the Dáil or Houses of Parliament. The company was also, according to records, “large holders of John Jameson & Sons casks in bond and on shelf”. Up to about 50 years ago, Irish whiskey was not bottled by the distillery, but by whiskey bonders or wholesalers such as Mitchell’s and Gilbey’s (the creator of Redbreast) in Dublin. These old wine shops were largely responsible for the prestige associated with Irish whiskey around the world. They would dilute the spirit down from Cask strength to the approved abv (usually 40%) before hand-filling and sealing the bottles with their own brand and label. In the 1920’s, Mitchells invented the concept of sherry and wine cask finished Irish Whiskey by finishing the whiskey in the empty wine, sherry and port casks left behind after bottling. Mitchell's began the habit to send their empty barrels to Jameson for filling and once they were aged they would sell them under their Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Blue Spot brands.
Alike the Mitchell’s family, the Léoville-Barton family, has been working in the wine industry for years in the Bordeaux region and its name is renowned around the world as such. The Leoville-Barton wine business was founded by an Irish man from county Fermanagh Thomas Barton. In the 17th century, Thomas Barton from Curraghmore, was involved in shipping in Inniskillen but he sailed to France in 1722 and set up his wine business in Bordeaux in 1725. He became famous and was soon renamed ‘French Tom’. Today, his vineyard is still in the Barton Family and led by Anthony Barton.
Green Spot is a classic pot still that has been around for over a 100 years. The Green Spot names come from the practice of Mitchells’ warehouse staff putting spots of different coloured paint on casks to indicate their maturation time. A Blue Spot was 8 years old, a Green spot ten years, a Yellow Spot 12 Years and a Red Spot 15 Years. The same green spot can also be found on Green Spot whiskey bottles.
Green Spot Whiskey is usually matured in Bourbon and Sherry casks but when Irish Distillers (IDL) went to Mitchell & Son to get their thoughts on finishing Green Spot in wine casks, Jonathan Mitchell naturally pointed out the best family with long-standing Irish connections based in the French wine industry he could think of: the Bartons.
If you are experiencing difficulties in watching the video play straight from YouTube here.
Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton was born from the finishing of Green Spot Pot in Leoville-Barton French Oak Bordeaux wine casks in small batches1, adding an exciting new dimension to this Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey already renowned for its excellent quality. Mitchells and Midleton, who are now well renowned for their casks finish experimentations, filled the Bordeaux wine casks with normal Green Spot whiskey (matured between 8-12 years in traditional sherry and bourbon oak casks) and allowed half to mature for 12 months and half for 24 months before they were blended together under the watch of Midleton’s Master Blender Billy Leighton. This 12 to 24 month range allows the whiskey to arrive at a finish of just the right balance between wine and French oak. The first batch was only limited to about a 10,000 bottles.
I know many of you, among our fans and customers, would be very surprised to hear that the whiskey did not impress Jim Murray with a note of only 83,5/100. Last march though, Green Spot Leoville-Barton won the World Best Single Pot Still at the World Whiskies Awards 2016.
Nose: Lots of fruit characters with aromas of red apples, oranges, and lemon. There are also some gentle spicy notes of ginger, clove, mace and cola.
Palate (Tasted with a dash of water): Immediately fruity and fresh. More of those red apple, orange and lemon characters but there are also touches of boiled sweets, barley sugar and citrus peel. Nice evolution in the mouth with it becoming spicy, dry and slightly tannic towards the end.
Finish: Dryer and spicy. The French oak is impossible to ignore adding some grippy tannins, ginger spice and a woody, oak character.
Still available on the Celtic Whiskey Shop Website.
Number 2 Green Spot 10 Year Old Pure Pot Still
Green Spot 10 Year Old Pure Pot Still was released as a commemorative bottle in 2005 to celebrate 200 years of trading at Mitchell & Son's wine merchants established in 1805.
William Mitchell came to Ireland from the North of England in the early 1800s and set up a bakery business in Fairview. In 1805 he purchased No. 10 Grafton Street (where McDonalds is now) and started a business that included a bakery, coffee shop and confectionery business. This very soon became Dublin’s most fashionable premises in which to be seen sipping “coffee.”
Robert, William’s grandson, continued to run the Grafton Street business. He then decided to open a dedicated wine business at 21 Kildare Street in 1887. In November 2008, the family sold the small beautiful Georgian hotel (built in the 1700s) in Kildare Street and moved to the CHQ Building in the thriving financial centre (IFSC) in Dublin 1.
Green Spot 10 Year Old Pure Pot Still was distilled in the year 1993 and was matured in three mixed oak bourbon casks. The rarity of the bottle also comes from its old style labelling. Each bottle was bottled at 40% abv and signed by Mr. Robert Mitchell by hand, which makes it a high value product for the auctions market in the last decade.
This single pot still whiskey was limited to just 1,000 bottles from a number of carefully selected casks on the first release at 250 euros the bottle for the 10 year old and 2,000 bottles at 850 euros for the 12 year old.
Number 3 Irish Whiskey Society Marrowbone Lane Pot Still - Exclusive Bottling
We were delighted to have the opportunity to taste this exclusive bottling presented by Peter White from the Irish Whiskey Society.
The Irish Whiskey Society Marrowbone Lane exclusive bottling is a Single Pot Still bottle inspired by the centenary of 1916.
In 1916, Dublin was dominated by ‘The Big Four’ distilleries, which chose to use uniquely Pot Still despite the appearance of the Coffey or column still. ‘The Big Four’ distilleries were John Jameson’s Bow Street, John Powers’ John’s Lane, William Jameson’s Marrowbone Lane and Georges Roe’s Thomas Street. The Jones’ Road Distillery (D.W.D.) had also joined forces with George Roe and William Jameson to form the Dublin Distillers Company Limited (DDC) since 1891. The size of Marrowbone Lane site alone, stretching over thirteen acres, fusing the Liberties to the Grand Canal, can give a certain idea of the distilleries emporium. Not to mentioned that Bow Street and Jameson were exporting Old Dublin Pot Still as far as the United States, Canada, India, Australia, and beyond.
During the Easter rising 1916, Marrowbone Lane’s distillery was used as a strongpoint by a force of more than a hundred rebels under the command of Eamonn Ceannt, which also held the nearby South Dublin Union. When the fighting broke out, George Roe’s, William Jameson’s and John Jameson’s distilleries were occupied; with rebels using the distilleries roofs and chimneys as snipers’ nests and barrels as barricades. The Dublin Distillers Company properties (the DDC buildings belonged to G. Roe and W. Jameson distilleries) became a crossroads between the city centre and the possibility of royal reinforcements from Kilmainham and the Richmond Barracks.
Although Éamonn Ceannt also stationed captains of his 4th Battalion at the Roe’s Distillery in Thomas Street distillery and the nearby Watkins Brewery, the three companies eventually converged on Marrowbone Lane, where Captain Seamus Murphy made use of the warehouses and high distillery chimneys to frustrate troop movements toward Dublin Castle. The Roe’s distillery ended up being the only one of two sites still in rebel hands at the time of the eventual surrender. The distillery was also notable for the large number of women involved in its defence.
Ceannt was executed by the British authorities after the rising's failure and Bow Street Distillery ceased operations for Easter week. In describing the careers of participants, the terms "fought at Marrowbone Lane" and "fought at the South Dublin Union" are used interchangeably.
© Pictures: Sean Sexton Collection & Hulton Archive
The Irish Whiskey Society's intention was to attempt to replicate the whiskey which would have been consumed in Dublin around that time. The aim was to create a ‘heavy pot’ style whiskey with mustier dryness and heavier style of wide cut. The whiskeys at the time would have been more leathery, dense, oily with a waxy mouthfeel, noticeably spicy and tinted with a musty dryness and a slight liquorice prickle, all but extinct in the modern drink. At the time, the pure pot still was the result of an old-Dublin-style mixed mash. These unique thick full-bodied distillates would have been aged in used sherry casks and bottled, unblended, for a full delivery of texture and spice. At the time though, the distilleries, were already under pressure from the rise of lighter and more rapidly produced blends. These kinds of distillates, adored by connoisseurs, are now usually used as vatting components rather than as single expressions. Although, the resinous oils and less immediately approachable mustiness and spice of these weightier liquors still form the base of many celebrated Irish expressions.
The Irish Whiskey Society partnered up with the Midleton Distillery to achieve the challenge of recreating a bottle from this lost heritage. The project team was composed of Peter White, Willie Murphy, Fionnán O’ Connor (Irish Whiskey Society members), and Sinead Gilbert (Irish Distillers Limited/Midleton).The whiskey was assiduously chosen by members of the Irish Whiskey Society from a selection of three whiskeys, handpicked by Midleton Distillery’s Master Blender, Billy Leighton for the occasion, on January 16, 2016 in Wynn’s hotel, Dublin.
In 1916, the whiskey of that era would not have been aged for a substantial period of time before it was consumed. Therefore, the whiskey is 11 years old and is a heavy pot still in keeping with tradition. It was distilled in January 2005 and spent 7 years in a refill bourbon cask and then in March 2012 it was re-casked into a first fill Oloroso sherry butt for 4 more years of aging. The initial pot still spices are balanced with the 4 years finishing in the sherry cask.
This cask strength expression of “trad pot” Midleton was bottled at a generous 54% cask strength in 2016 and named after the famous street where the fierce fighting took place during the Easter Rising of 1916. The lovely surprise was the absolutely delicious taste.
Nose: Sherry – but not the sweet, pungent sherry of many modern malts and blends. Instead, think musky old sherry distorted into something drier, more leathery, and less immediately inviting by the pot still mustiness and Liquorice plant edges once sported by the genre hallmarks. Beneath that, a bass clef robustness packing earthy layers of distillate driven oils, cloves, shoe polishy resins and a slight herbal moss all stained into something slightly stranger by the Oloroso glaze.
Palate: Like an old traditional Dublin pot still with a touch of the pub’s house sherry tipped in… Classic pre 70s too-dry-for-dried-fruit apricot, old polished floorboards, and musty linoleum over an irrepressibly spicy base so texturally thick that even the spices feel a little too heavy for spice. Large mouthful and plenty of attention advised. A veritable explosion of flavours in the mouth.
Finish: Old school trad pot heft. Not so much long as mouth filling. Oils and resins and a distant sherry echo. The finale, like the palate, is all about weight – and that weight is unapologetically cut with the prickles of its own residual oils.
This very rare bottling was exclusively made available by the Celtic Whiskey Shop for the tasting. Contact the Irish Whiskey Society for more details on the bottle.
Number 4 Midleton Midleton Dair Ghaelach Tree 2
The maturation in different species of wood has an impact on the whiskey flavour and in the last years, Midleton has made various maturation experiments.
In April 2015, Dair Ghaelach, which means “Irish oak” in Irish, was the first ever Irish whiskey to be finished in virgin native 'Irish Oak' Hogsheads or at least not since the early 19th century.
For 9,000 years, post-glacial wild woodland covered approximately 80% of Ireland. In the 1980s it was down to only 4%. As a result, very few Irish whiskeys are actually matured in native Irish oak barrels and most Irish Whiskeys are matured in imported barrels and oaks cultivated elsewhere than Ireland. It took the joint effort of Master Blender Billy Leighton, Master of Maturation Kevin O’Gorman and Master Cooper Ger Buckley to find native Irish Oak called Quercus Robur. Dair Ghaelach Grinsell’s Wood Single Pot Still Whiskey is the result of a six-year project leading to the first whiskey finished in native Irish oak barrels for at least 140 years. The Tree 2 comes from the Grinsell’s wood forest (Co. Kilkenny) belonging to generations of the Gabbet family for 350 years. Each of the ten trees felled were replaced with new saplings to allow the forest to regenerate naturally. Since then Irish Distillers has earmarked four other mature forests around the country for future releases.
Only ten oak trees from Ballaghtobin Estate in Co. Kilkenny were used. The trees were transported to Galicia in Spain to be quarter sawn, before moving down to Jerez, where cooper Antonio Paez Lobato seasoned the wood for sixteen months, made forty-eight unique hogsheads casks of 250ltrs capacity and gave them a toast of medium intensity. About six casks were produced out of each tree. Transported back to Ireland, they were filled with the whiskey and checked regularly until the tasters decided it was time to bottle.
The blend of 15 to 22 year-old single pot still whiskies was aged first in American bourbon casks (2nd & 3rd fill) before spending its final ten months in the new Kilkenny oak casks. The whiskey was crafted in the classical Single Pot still Irish whiskey Style (no column still involved), which makes the whiskey taste spicier and more intense. The mixed cereal base of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled in the bulbous copper pot stills of Midleton was also given the personal seal of approval by Midleton Master Distiller, Brian Nation.
A mere 1,000 cases (12,000 bottles) were produced. As part of the project, each of the 130 year-old trees felled were processed into separate barrels, so that every bottle can be directly linked to a specific tree. To preserve this wonderfully rich contribution from the Irish oak, Midleton Dair Ghaelach is non-chill filtered, non coloured (the Irish oak brings natural caramel colour to the whiskey) and was bottled at 48% cask strength (or 57.9 per cent volume to be perfectly exact). It was individually numbered by batch, bottle and tree! Tree 1 and 6 were sent to USA and number 8 to South America. Each tree has its own effect on the final taste of the whiskey so every release has its own characteristics.
Investors and collectors are now trying to build up a collection that includes one bottle from each tree.
Nose: The sweet vanilla notes are given depth by some chocolate honey notes and coffee beans. The aromas of fruits of red berries, pineapple and bananas balance the oils aromas.
Palate: classic Irish pot still spices balanced by the Irish oak: cloves, cinnamon gives way to dairy fudge and chocolate. Touches of apple.
Finish: Exceptionally long with sweet spices, slowly leading to the Irish Oak.
This very rare bottling was exclusively made available by the Celtic Whiskey Shop for the tasting. Find other bottles of the series available on the Celtic Whiskey Shop website.
Number 5 Powers 16 Year Old – Celtic Whiskey Shop Exclusive Bottling
Bottled exclusively for the Celtic Whiskey Shop, it is a first ever single cask Powers for the shop but hopefully it will not be the last! Cask 62690 was bonded in July 1999 and bottled in late 2015 at 16 years old. It has the typical robust Powers character which comes from use of traditional pot still spirit and maturation in refill Bourbon casks. Like most other great whiskeys it is non-chill filtered and bottled at a generous 46%.
Nose: Robust pot still spices and cracked black pepper with a touch of menthol give way to soft vanilla balanced with charred oak.
Palate: Sweet cinnamon and clove with black pepper precede succulent crisp green apple flavours. Complex and spicy with notes of American oak.
Finish: Long and satisfying, ending in a combination of wood and barley.
This Celtic Whiskey Shop Exclusive Bottling is completely SOLD OUT.
Number 6 Bushmills SteamShip Sherry Cask Reserve
Bushmills ambassador Mark McLaughlin was introducing this first bottle of the SteamShip casks series.
The collection was inspired by the historical SS Bushmills steamship and celebrates its maiden voyage in the 1890s. It’s been 125 years since the SS SteamShip was commissioned by the Boyd Brothers to take his first nine months trip to NY and the UK to bring back its own wine casks. It sailed to America, travelling as far as Philadelphia and Yokohama, and returned with refilled casks of rum, fortified wine and Bourbon. Bringing a variety of forty-five wines by itself was pretty admirable at the time for a dsitillery. In the 1880-1990s, Bushmills was actually living its ‘golden years’ before the prohibition. In November 2014, Jose Cuervo acquired the Bushmills brand and distillery from Diageo. With an over €38m expansion plan of the County Antrim-based Old Bushmills Distillery, Jose Curevo plans on doubling production capacity. There are also long term plans to produce grain whiskey.
The collection arrived at the time of an exciting phase for Bushmills and re- focus on the travel exclusives market. Colum Egan, master distiller at The Old Bushmills Distillery, said: “For centuries distillers have experimented with different barrels so naturally I was inspired by the adventures of the ship and the opportunities it opened to experiment with various casks from around the world.[..]”. The collection consists of three permanent “special cask matured” variants plus regular limited edition releases.
The first release in the range is the Sherry Cask Reserve, a no-age-statement single malt Irish whiskey (with from 10 to 15 year old whiskies), exclusively matured in Oloroso Sherry butts and bottled at 40% abv. The bottle is a Travel Exclusive only, featuring maritime-inspired packaging and destined to the airports.
Nose: first fill sherry.
Palate: Soft and smooth. Well balanced and structured. Complex and rich flavours of spiced honey, dark chocolate, and rich dried fruit.
Finish: Smooth finish.
This very rare bottling was exclusively made available by the Celtic Whiskey Shop for the tasting. Contact Bushmills for more details on the bottle.
Number 7 Celtic Cask 14: Celtic Cask Ceathair Deag (14)
Celtic Cask Ceathair Deag (14) is Celtic Whiskey Shop's fourteenth special release in line of award winning exclusive single cask Irish Whiskey range.
The Celtic Cask Series is a range born from strong relationship with Irish distilleries and various European bodegas and wine houses with the Celtic Whiskey Shop. The shop was able to hand-pick some of more interesting distillates from the length of the country, both single malt and single pot still. The distillates are then mature or finish in great casks from Spain, Portugal and Italy. Sherry, port, madeira and other wine casks have added richness and complexity to the spirit, from the spicy exotic fruits of Celtic Whiskey Cask Se to the rich Christmas cake aromas of the Celtic Whiskey Cask Tri Deag.
Celtic Cask Ceathair Deag (14) is a double-distilled, unpeated single malt sourced from a well-known distillery and was distilled in the year 2001.
It was initially matured for 11 years in a first-fill bourbon cask before being transferred into a special Tuscan wine cask. A final maturation period of over 3 years took place in a top quality red barrel from the Altesino estate. Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's most sought after red wines and this barrel was previously used to mature one of Altesino's top cuvees of Brunello. Altesino also supplied the vin santo cask which made the very rare Celtic Cask Seacht (7)! Altesino uses French oak casks rather than Slavonian oak which is commonly used. The grapes are 100% Sangiovese.
Celtic Cask 14 was bottled in February 2016 at a few months over 14 years old and a generous 46%. Numbers are very limited as each cask only yields a few hundred bottles (only 323 bottles for this one).
Nose: Salted caramel, banoffee pie, pineapple, red apples, cookie dough and citrus peel.
Palate: Thick and rich with dried fruits, mocha, orange peel, malt and spice flavours.
Finish: Long, fruity and spicy.
Still available on the Celtic Whiskey Shop Website.
Number 8 Celtic Cask 15: Celtic Cask Cuig Deag (15)
Celtic Cask Cuig Deag (15) is the first port cask matured release of the Celtic Cask Series. This is a double distilled single malt that came from a very well-known distillery on the island of Ireland. The spirit was distilled in the year 1991. It initially spent 23 years in a bourbon barrel before being transferred to a single port pipe from one of Portugal's finest wine makers, Quinta do Noval. Quintal do Noval has a long tradition of having one of the best vintage ports since 1715. The further maturation period of over two years gave in the port casks this richly flavoured whiskey an extra dimension. It was bottled at 46% abv in 2016.
Nose: Fresh and lively with aromas of orange peel, marmalade, red grapes, fruit cake and boiled sweets.
Palate: Complex notes of oranges, pineapple, cherries then vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, linseed oil and oak.
Finish: Lightly smoky and pleasantly spicy. The subtle smokiness at the end is probably the best about it.
Still available on the Celtic Whiskey Shop Website.